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To solve pick-and-roll issues, Wizards learn going smaller can be necessary

To solve pick-and-roll issues, Wizards learn going smaller can be necessary

There was a push on Kemba Walker as he tried to curl around Cody Zeller’s on the screen-and-roll action. There was the complete sellout by Marcin Gortat to contain the diminutive but speedy point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, making it difficult for him to lob the pass over the top at the rim.

There also was the switching involved by having Kelly Oubre, who started in place of Markieff Morris, to assist in preventing one of the NBA’s most lethal teams on the pick-and-roll from getting those easy buckets.

The result wasn’t just a 109-106 victory, but it was an about-face compared with how the Wizards played in a 112-101 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday. In that game, they were shredded on the pick-and-roll by Goran Dragic and James Johnson. They didn’t allow the Hornets to be physical with them first. Instead, the Wizards (10-14) took the initiative to set the tone.

“We had to start getting physical, and not let them just run their offense so freely,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the third quarter, when they tied it at 56 but quickly fell down by double-digits as Charlotte went on a 10-0 run. “I thought we did a better job of making them miss shots and not hoping that they miss. … We didn’t know Markieff was going to be out with a sore foot and Kelly came in and stepped up and did a great job defensively.”

Charlotte (14-12) is known for how they screen – sometimes illegally – to free Walker to get to the basket. Zeller and Frank Kaminsky, in particular are good at catching the ball and on handoffs spreading their legs to force the defender to take a wider angle. That allows Walker to turn the corner more effectively and the screener to dive to the basket for the feed or the putback on the weakside.

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' win over tough Hornets]

The Wizards took that away. In fact, they had seven more offensive rebounds (12), dominated in second-chance points (21-6) and points in the paint (56-28). They also more than doubled Charlotte’s output in steals (15-7).

Marvin Williams, a stretch power forward starter for Charlotte, was rendered ineffective vs. Oubre. Williams was just 2-for-6 for four points. Oubre was 7-for-12 for 15 points, six rebounds and two steals.

“One through four when they ran pick-and-roll with Marvin Williams, that’s one of their bread-and-butter plays getting Kemba to turn the corner,” said John Wall, who led all scorers with 25 points and 10 assists. “We just switched it one through four and then with these guys running pick-and-roll our bigs did a great job of being up into the screens so those guys couldn’t split or come downhill. The weakside was intact. We did a great job of forcing them into some tough shots and we were stealing the ball.”

The role that Gortat, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and two steals, played in the success of the coverage can’t be overstated. Without the guards and the frontline being in sync and making multiple efforts, none of this works.

Coach Scott Brooks had to go away from Gortat in Miami which went small with Johnson -- a small forward -- playing as a center and initiating the screen-roll with Dragic who is the point guard. He used Morris as the five and opted to sit Gortat. Wall believes another adjustment there would’ve done the trick like it did Wednesday.

“I felt like we could’ve went smaller and played with all of our guards and basically have Otto or Kelly on (Johnson) and then we can be able to switch one through five and just battle it out on the boards," Wall said. "Having a big out there was kind of tough because James Johnson was handling the ball, running the pick-and-roll with the point guard and we were getting confused a little bit and it gave those guys some open shots.”

So it's not just the communication between players that produced a better defensive effort and win vs. Charlotte. It's communication from players to the coaching staff on what they think works best for them, too.

[RELATED: Wall says Wizards will take anything they can get]

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Summer League allowed Wizards to experiment with Issuf Sanon's position

Summer League allowed Wizards to experiment with Issuf Sanon's position

Issuf Sanon remains very much a blank canvass as an NBA prospect. The Wizards' 2018 second-round pick is only 19 years old and still spending most of his time overseas, this past season playing professional ball in Slovenia.

So, the Wizards see the current stage of his career as an opportunity for experimentation. During Sanon's time in the Las Vegas Summer League, the Wizards toyed with him as a shooting guard despite the fact he was drafted as a point guard by trade.

Sanon spent much of his time on the floor during four Summer League games off the ball. It was an adjustment for Sanon, but one the team feels he is well-suited for due to his size at 6-foot-4.

"He's still picking up the game, still learning," Wizards Summer League head coach Robert Pack said. "I don't want to put a lot of pressure on him to be a point guard or to be an off-guard."

Sanon didn't exactly take to the new role quickly. In his four Summer League games, he averaged only 1.5 points and a rebound while shooting 18.2 percent from the field. He even missed his free throws.

But beyond the stats, the trademark aggression Sanon usually has was mostly missing. He usually runs around the court with reckless abandon, sometimes to a fault. In the 2018 Summer League he got into foul trouble too quickly and stood out for slapping the floor on defense.

Those in the Wizards' front office rave about his motor and the edge he brings to the game. He almost has too much energy and the Wizards have no qualms with that. They say it's easier to reel that in than to ask a player to ramp it up out of nowhere.

But in the shooting guard role, Sanon did not appear comfortable, at least on offense.

"[I have to focus on] cuts, baseline, back screens," Sanon said of the difference in playing as a two-guard. "Like how we do in Europe, not play 1-on-1. Small cuts, back doors and stuff like that."

Without a consistent jumper, Sanon's ceiling off the ball on offense appears low at this point. Developing a three-pointer that other teams have to respect would be crucial for him becoming a combo guard long-term.

Defensively is where it makes more sense. Sanon is better on that end of the floor and has the size to defend shooting guards. He is tall and also strong. He is not your average, lanky 19-year-old basketball player.

Sanon has the size to play physical defense and the quickness to stay in front of point guards, at least at the Summer League level.

"I like to play defense. It starts on defense. If I play good defense, I have a good game," he said.

It may be another year or several before Sanon makes the leap to the United States to play for the Wizards. When he does, expect explosive athleticism and a commitment to the defensive end. 

Whether he will arrive as a point guard or something different, though, now appears to be up in the air.


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Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Natasha Cloud is tired of the Bradley Beal trade rumors

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud has had it up to here with trade rumors about Wizards guard Bradley Beal.

Beal has been a strong vocal supporter of the Mystics and the WNBA, in general. He works closely with Kristi Toliver, who, in her offseason, works as an assistant coach for the Wizards. His closeness with the Mystics has now manifested itself in Cloud voicing her opposition to Beal being traded on Twitter.

Beal is no stranger to trade rumors. Entering his eighth season, Beal has been connected to the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat, among others. Given that his name is frequently tossed around in trade talks, it should come as no surprise that the Clippers made a run at him to pair with Kawhi Leonard.

Despite the frequent and recurring rumors, Beal hasn't been traded, and very likely won't be traded. He's a star and a legitimate piece around which to build a franchise. At the summer league in Las Vegas, NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes sat with Shaquille O'Neal to discuss what the Wizards should do in free agency. Shaq said that between Beal and John Wall, the Wizards are just a piece or two from breaking through.

I definitely think [the Wizards] should keep him. He's a great shooter, but if he’s a great shooter looking to go somewhere, L.A. has $32 million [in cap space]. ... He's definitely the cornerstone of this franchise. He and John Wall have always, almost always, been there. They just need another one or two guys.

It's still unlikely that Beal is playing in anything other than a Wizards uniform on opening night, but if he is, expect to hear from Cloud about it.